Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar renewed her call for legalizing marijuana nationwide this week, framing federal action on the issue as a matter of economic equality.
In an interview with BET, the freshman Minnesota Democrat said lawmakers should “not allow for the states to pick and choose” whether to legalize the substance.
“What happens [without full legalization] is you will have a state where someone is publicly and professionally able to profit and the next state, someone could be sent to life [in prison] for it,” Omar said. “We want to make sure that there is equality in our laws. I don’t think it is just for that kind of economy to exist within this policy.”
The push to legalize marijuana has gained traction in recent years. Eleven states have adopted laws allowing marijuana for recreational purposes. Dozens more, including Minnesota, approve medicinal use in some cases. But possessing or selling the substance remains a federal offense.
Omar is a cosponsor of legislation that would remove the drug from the federal list of controlled substances and expunge federal convictions for marijuana possession or use. The measure is backed by a number of Democratic presidential candidates, including Sens. Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. The proposal has so far failed to get a hearing in either chamber or attract support from Senate Republicans, whose votes would be needed to pass it.
A number of members of Minnesota’s congressional delegation, including fellow freshman Democrats Angie Craig and Dean Phillips, have previously expressed support for allowing states to legalize the substance. But Omar is the state’s only member pushing for lifting the prohibition on the federal level. Minnesota U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a presidential candidate, backs legalization but says “states should have the right to determine the best approach to marijuana within their borders.”
The debate over legalization, including the economic impact of current policies, will return to the spotlight in Washington on Wednesday when a congressional subcommittee holds a hearing on “racial justice and the need for reform” of marijuana laws.